Thursday, Nov 20, 2014
Columns

Reiniers: Narcissistic explosion on social media


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Nobody doubts that the anti-establishment counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s ushered in a new America of protests, hippies, feminism, spirituality, hedonism and free dugs. As Timothy Leary said during those exciting times, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Leary meant to get turned on by psychedelics. The 21st century version is a different narcissistic explosion but this time turned on by social media — another avenue for mental health experts to explore.

One unexpected outcome has been all the mentally deranged killers who preen their narcissistic feathers on the web – a technological breakthrough unavailable back in the day.

It started with emailing in the 1990s and moving on to Facebooking, Tweeting, texting, Instagramming — any mode of communication with any available device. We now can communicate with the world anytime, anywhere with our mobile devices. We can vent or blow our horn with photographs or videos. This brings to mind narcissist Kurt Cobain, who penned the lyric, “I don’t care what you think unless it is about me,” and ultimately committed suicide at age 27.

Social media gives the mentally ill a platform unheard of 25 years ago. This phenomenon has been hiding in plain view, because it seems as though everyone is caught up in the joy of posting, texting, twittering, emailing – self-absorbed in our personal lives as our digital fingers tap away at the keyboard. One could argue that this could empower the violent mentally ill who now can post their rantings in real time.

The roster is endless.

Infamous Norwegian mass murderer Anders Bevik sent his 500-page manifesto to his friends, and to the friends of his friends, on Facebook. This, and photos on his Facebook account, were a road map to his deranged mind. This schizoid – guilty of a mass shooting of 69 people in 2011 – claimed be a member of the Knights of Templar. (The last Grand Master of the Knights was burned at the stake in 1314.)

The point is that these mentally ill killers always broadcast tell-tail signs that they need professional help. Social media feeds their narcissism.

In May a mentally ill 22-year-old former college student, Elliot Rodger, went on a rampage near the University of California, leaving 6 dead and 13 injured by stabbings, gunshot wounds and being hit by his car before he committed suicide. The day before the slaughter he released a You Tube video entitled “Retribution,” in which he said: “Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge.” Rodgers had been under the care of multiple mental health professionals since childhood.

Rampage killings are a relatively recent phenomenon which I would argue had its genesis in the dark ages of the 1990s when many people abandoned the printed word, television and broadcast news and moved to the digital world. There was some logic to the progression when it settled upon the millennials whose whole world is filtered through social media.

In recent years media became more of a way to communicate rather simply consume content. Studies show many people do not want to be bored with content, even if it is important. Better to read personalized chit-chat, rather than the latest on Crimea.

Consumer researchers tell us 60 percent of millennials will take time to upload videos, images and blog entries online. Mentally ill shooters are in this age group, so they are out there sharing their violent thoughts.

What prompted this column was a shooting this month on a Seattle campus by 26-year-old Aaron Ybarra, who had a history of mental health issues. According to local news sources Ybarra was obsessed with the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, and even had travelled to Colorado to the site of the mass slaughter. Ybarra’s list of liked Facebook pages included Guns and Snipers, a page featuring photos of sniper rifles and other weapons. Check out his Facebook page. His favorite music is Death Angel. His favorite book is Texas Seven, a story about murder and a prisoner escape by seven dangerous inmates in a Texas prison. This is the kind of stuff one would hope his doctor could analyze – the point being that there are telltale signs on social media sites of the violent mentally ill.

This pattern continued with 24-year-old shooter Justin Borque, a Canadian who this month shot five Royal Canadian Mounties, killing three of them. On Facebook his image is adorned with guns, ammo and camouflage. On his Facebook page he talks about evil governments and police officers, using violent language and imagery.

Now get this: His Facebook page was active even while he was on the run from the Mounties. Realizing this and that everyone is on social media, the Mounties urged citizens not to reveal the location of officers on social media because they knew Borque still was using the channels!

These are different times.

Not to be outdone, Jerad Miller and his wife, Amanda, last week executed two Las Vegas police officers and killed a bystander. Miller had been posting a bunch of anti-government, pro-gun rants on the internet for months. Just before the killings he posted on his Facebook page: “The dawn of a new day. May all our coming sacrifices be worth it.”

The consensus of mental health professionals is that social media are having an undesirable impact, particularly on young people, and there is increasing evidence to support a link to narcissism. That being said, logic would dictate that the explosion of social media platforms also must be having an effect on the violent mentally ill – and this has resulted in endless slaughter.

We live in different times.

John Reiniers is a retired attorney and regular contributor who lives in Spring Hill. Email him at jbreiniers@yahoo.com.

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